What Is an SDK? Software Development Kits Explained

Learn how an Okta CIAM solution can increase speed-to-market, lower development costs, and let in-house developers focus on core application features.

SDK stands for software development kit, and it is often called a devkit. An SDK is used by developers to create applications. The SDK contains a library of information, programs, and tools, including code samples, libraries, documentation, processes, and guides that help developers to create a software application for use on a specific platform, system, or programming language. 

Good SDKs provide developers with a toolkit — everything they need to get their product to market quickly and efficiently. Almost every piece of software users interact with, from web browsers to video games, was built on an SDK. 

Many SDKs also include APIs (application programming interfaces), which can be used as building blocks within the toolkit provided by the SDK. APIs allow different applications to communicate with each other. 

Ultimately, an SDK is an important program that benefits developers in app creation.

What is a software development kit?

An SDK, devkit, or software development kit is a program designed by manufacturers of operating systems, hardware platforms, program languages, software, or applications. It provides developers with a set of tools that help them build apps more efficiently and effectively. 

An SDK can accompany hardware or digital software to help developers create new apps that can integrate with existing programs or apps. It can also help users to better navigate these products.

An SDK is designed for use within a specific system, on a certain operating system, or with a specific programming language. For example, to build an iOS app, you need an iOS SDK; for an Android app, you will need an Android SDK. The SDK is platform-specific. 

An SDK can contain a variety of components to help with application creation, providing a framework to work within. The SDK will typically include the following:

  • Libraries
  • Documentation
  • Compiler
  • APIs
  • Drivers
  • Code samples
  • Network protocols
  • Editors
  • Testing/analyst tools
  • Runtime/development environments
  • Processes
  • Guide

Qualities of a good SDK

Mobile SDKs are meant to be used outside of just the organization it’s built within. Therefore, it needs to provide specific value to other businesses and developers. 

Good SDKs provide all the tools a developer will need to create a new application for a specific product on a certain platform or within the supported ecosystem. They can also include a basic test project or example, allowing a quick start for developers.

A good SDK should have the following traits:

  • Be easy to use by developers
  • Provide enough functionality to add value to other apps
  • Work well with other SDKs
  • Include thorough documentation on how the code works
  • Will not negatively affect the mobile device’s battery, CPU, or data consumption

It is also important to consider the fact that some SDKs will have agreements or rules that have to be acknowledged and submitted before use. They can also be subject to a license agreement. For example, an SDK with a proprietary license cannot be used for the development of open-source software. Similarly, an SDK with a general public license (GPL) cannot be used for developing proprietary apps. 

It is important to consider these factors when looking for the right SDK  or when creating one. You should be aware of the intended audience.

How an SDK benefits businesses

Providing a software development kit can provide several advantages for businesses. These are some of the benefits for your app:

  • More marketable: Having an SDK can integrate easier with customers’ existing tech stack. This can make it easier to market your SDK, close deals, and shorten the sales cycle.
  • Faster deployment: An SDK can make software development more efficient, as developers often do not have the time to code every little thing from scratch. The SDK can provide the tools, so they don’t have to start from scratch on every piece of the application.

Creating a software development kit for your product can help to bridge the gap with a customer’s app and free the developer’s time up for actual app creation instead of code for each aspect of functionality. This can help get the app to market faster.

  • Increased reach: The more value your product and subsequent SDK have for interoperability, the more exposure you will get as more tools will be looking to integrate with your product.
  • Risk control: SDK gives you the control to ensure that critical functions are protected and remain tamper-free. It also gives you the ability to determine how your product integrates with other apps and how the user interface will look.

SDK vs. API: What are the differences?

A software development kit provides the toolkit for building an app, which often includes APIs. An API is a type of interface that allows different applications or software to interact with others. In short, the API helps different apps to communicate with each other. 

While the SDK has an all-purpose function of providing programs and tools for the creation of an entirely new app, the API has only one function: to allow communication between apps. So, while an SDK can contain APIs, an API does not contain SDKs. An API is a specific tool, while an SDK is the entire toolkit.

The application programming interface (API) provides functionality within an SDK. They are often contained within SDKs and used in tandem. An example can be found with Facebook, which uses APIs to allow communication internally and with third-party application providers and SDKs to create these applications. 

The SDK helps to provide the building blocks for the creation of integrated applications, such as those that allow users to subscribe to media outlets and register for external sites. The API provides the communication tools between Facebook and these third-party applications. Both are important and useful development tools.

Key takeaways

A devkit, or software development kit (SDK), provides the programs and tools to create apps within a specific platform, programming language, or operating system. The SDK provides all of the necessary components that are needed to build an app from the ground up. This can include guides, code samples, programs, libraries, APIs, guides, and processes — anything a developer might need to use to create the app within that specific system or platform. 

A software development kit provides a host of tools within an overall toolkit that can make app development much faster and more efficient. It allows the development to integrate easier with existing technology, making a product more marketable. This can allow app developers the time and opportunity to focus entirely on the new app itself instead of needing to build code from scratch for every small function or nuance of the app. SDKs provide users with an enhanced ability to navigate digital software and hardware products alike.

An SDK differs from an API (application programming interface) in that the API’s function is to allow apps or software programs to communicate with each other. The SDK provides the framework for building an entire app, while the API has one function only. 

SDKs often contain multiple APIs, which can come in a variety of forms. The reverse is not true, however. The SDK provides the entire structure of an app, while the APIs allow this app to integrate, talk to, and work with or within other apps. 

An SDK is a beneficial tool for software developers. Offering a software development kit with your product can increase your reach and revenue. It allows other brands to use your technology.


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